Books on Libya
Update No: 045 - (26/07/07)
The End of Two Ordeals: Release for the Nurses
and Redemption for Libya
Bulgarian Nurses Kristiana Valtcheva, Nassia Nenova, Valia Tcherveniachka,
Valentina Siropulo and Snejana Dimitrova and doctor Ashraf Jumaa Hajuj
(Palestinian, but now a naturalised Bulgarian citizen), jailed in Libya since
1999 have been released from prison and allowed to return to Bulgaria. The six
had been sentenced to death in 2005 and lost the most recent appeal just weeks
ago. In typical Libyan Jamahiriya style, however, by releasing the medics, Libya
itself has fully freed itself from all remaining international diplomatic
constraints. As of July 24, 2007, Libya has completed all steps to achieve a
full and unconditional re-integration into the fold of international consensus.
The six medics were bizarrely charged with deliberately infecting 438 children
with HIV at a Benghazi hospital in 1998; 56 of the children have died. All the
indications suggested that the six medics had been guilty of nothing in the
case, as leading authorities on HIV presented compelling evidence that the
children were already infected at Fatih hospital even before the arrival in the
country of the six medics, due to poor sanitary conditions.
The eight years of uncertainty and agony were suddenly reduced to a whirlwind
week of activity. Ever since the European Union started to work on the case of
the medics, that is when Bulgaria joined the European Union, it was widely
expected that, given the delicate tribal considerations and internal Libyan
situation, as well as the overall regional picture, the way out for the medics
would come by way of an official pardon from the Libyan leader Mu'ammar al-Qadhafi.
The riots in Benghazi in March 2006, ostensibly, provoked by the display on a
t-shirt by an Italian right wing parliamentarian of the infamous Jyllands-Posten
caricatures of the prophet Muhammad, coincided with an important phase of the
Bulgarian nurses' trial, pointing to the thorny internal repercussions of the
case. From the Libyan side, securing an official clearance from the families was
needed to unlock the case. Indeed, just days before the medics' release, the
families of the victims have signed a legal document guaranteeing their consent
to a commutation of the death sentence or full pardon for the medics (in
exchange for an estimated USD 1 million per family funded by the al-Qadhafi
Foundation). Having cleared this 'mechanical' obstacle, the Libyan leader had
the legal and, more importantly, political clearance to release the medics; in
crude terms this might accurately be described as 'blood money'.
The EU and the Qadhafi Foundation, led by his son, Seif-ul Islam Qadhafi, worked
actively to secure the breakthrough deal. While the EU commission said it did
not participate in the deal directly, several European leaders, including
Italy's Romano Prodi called al-Qadhafi to secure the commutation of the death
sentence. There has been speculation as to whether the funds secured to pay the
victims' families were paid by the EU or France, whose president Nicolas Sarkozy
and wife Cecilia appeared at the last moment to steal the limelight of years of
diplomacy from the EU. However, Sarkozy assured that Libya's conditions for the
release of the medics were political and not financial. That is, Libya's demands
involved demands that it be made a full partner in the Euro-Mediterranean
process from which it had been excluded because of the 1988 Pan Am and 1989 UTA
bombings. The EU denied that it contributed to the special Benghazi Fund to help
the families of the HIV infected children. However, the Libyan foreign affairs
minister, said that both France and the EU did pay into the Fund, a sum even
greater than the total shared among all the families. Nevertheless, Libya's
political gain is a Libya-EU cooperation accord to develop and expand mutual
cooperation. President Sarkozy visited Libya with his foreign minister Bernard
Kouchner on July 25, to solidify the effort to reintegrate Libya in the
There is speculation that the emir of Qatar, who participated in the final phase
of the negotiations, is the 'mystery party' behind the payment made to the
families of the victims (over USD 1 million each). Interestingly, the emir of
Qatar wants to buy into the EADS aerospace consortium and the airline he owns,
Qatar Airways, placed an order with Airbus for 80 A350XWB (20 -800, 40 -900 and
20 -1000) valued at over $16 billion. The deal was signed by Qatar Airways
President Akbar Al Baker beside French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Qatari
Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani at the presidential palace in Paris and Sarkozy
has been looking for more investors for EADS. It has also been suggested that
oil companies, banks and other businesses, eager to clear the way for the
investment opportunities afforded by Libya may also have paid into the fund.
Nevertheless, Libya's political gain is a Libya-EU cooperation accord to develop
and expand mutual cooperation. President Sarkozy is also to visit Libya with the
foreign minister Bernard Kouchner on July 25 to solidify the effort to
reintegrate Libya in the 'international community'.
On the very day he was elected, last May 6, Sarkozy mentioned the 'Bulgarian
medics' affair' as one of his foreign policy priorities. He showed a rather
unusual interest in the matter, considering there was no direct French
connection, other than that Bulgaria is a fellow EU member state. Aside from the
implications of the role played by Sarkozy's wife, who flew to Tripoli twice, on
July 12 and on July 23 (the second time accompanied by Mrs. Ferreo-Waldner, EU
Commissioner). Sarkozy must have understood the enormous opportunities for
French interests, if his government could secure a diplomatic coup in Libya,
second only to the WMD 'renunciation' in 2003, which started the entire Libyan
rehabilitation process. We also do not discount the idea that leaders from time
to time do the right thing - because it is the right thing! Sarkozy's visit will
mark the end of the rehabilitation and the start of the new phase, the one, in
which Libya should ostensibly truly begin a transformation, though, not a
political one…yet. The changes will probably come at a faster pace than
anything so far seen since 2004.
Investment in Sectors Beyond Oil?
Libya's efforts to widen international investment ties and modernize its
economy will be boosted by more international links, as foreign investors will
have fewer concerns about investing in Libya. While still deeply flawed, the
Libyan legal system has shown that tragedies eventually are avoidable, when the
gains are too appetizing to abandon. The release of the Bulgarian nurses has no
doubt helped promote the image of a more favourable political climate as Libya
has resolved what, by all accounts, was a human rights scandal of its own
making. EU countries and even the United States - whose secretary of state
Condoleeza Rice will likely pay a visit to Libya in the short term - are now
freer to actively seek contracts in all sectors, not just oil. The US had made
it clear to Libya that the release of the nurses was the necessary last step to
secure full diplomatic relations, the establishment of which would surely
reassure American firms wanting to do business in Libya. In 2006, the U.S.-Libya
Business Association, said last year that U.S. firms were interested in
supplying information technology, telecommunications, water, power and roads. In
fact, Libya's infrastructure, from roads to new transport systems such as
railways needs urgent investment and work. France has taken a leap, sidelining
fellow Mediterranean powers such as Italy and Spain. Libya has already ordered
revised versions of its Mirage fighter jets, potentially becoming the first
foreign customer for the Rafale jet. Libya's airlines have also ordered some USD
3 billion worth of new airliners from Airbus, which is 15% owned by the French
government - and the restructuring of which is also a priority of Sarkozy's.
Libya also wants to upgrade the rail and energy sectors and the improvement of
Franco-Libyan relations could well lead to new commercial ventures for Alstom.
In the banking sector, the BNP Paribas has already won a tender for the
privatisation of 19% of the capital of the Sahara Bank at a cost of 145 million
No doubt US contractors will also participate in the contest, vying with
Europeans and Asian firms. This is what is meant when the EU member states,
already among Libya's main trade partners, talk of the "new and enhanced
relationship between the EU and Libya." The EU partnerships that Col.
Qadhafi secured in exchange for the release of the medics could include free
trade through the so-called association agreements that it has with other North
African countries. These are accords under which economic, trade, and political
ties improve as long as the partner countries execute reforms agreed in advance.
The EU may want to direct Libya to reform its criminal and civil legal system as
part of those reforms in order to reassure potential investors and particularly
workers, that they shall never have to face anything remotely approaching the
ordeal of the Bulgarian nurses. It will not be easy to recruit highly-skilled
foreign workers to come and live here to be potential 'scapegoat material,'
whilst that cloud of irrationality still has little in the way of checks and
balances in the form of the rule of law, as westerners understand that phrase.
Libya, however, has also to make investment easier. Foreign oil companies find
it easy to invest in Libya's oil industry, because the oil sector is considered
vital to the regime's political survival. The process is clear and considered to
be highly professional. This is not the case for other sectors of the economy,
which must now be repaired, if nothing else to ensure that the oil industry can
continue to expand such as to achieve Libya's stated goal of 3 million bpd by
2010. The non-oil economy is held back by bureaucracy, corruption and
unreliability, that can drive even the most stubborn investors away. Libya
started the rehabilitation process in 2004, because Qadhafi realized that he had
little choice but to work with the West for his own political survival.
Not Unlike China
As for the West, it should avoid calling overtly for democracy, elections or
human rights which would face utter disappointment, confronted by such a regime.
Dealing with Libya will likely be akin to dealing with China. So long as Qadhafi
is in charge and Libya is called a Jamahiriya, Libya's institutions will remain
as idiosyncratic as they are now. Political change will be slow and largely be
directed in such a way as to promote investment. As for 'democracy', well
according to the Green Book, Libya is already swimming in it even if it shuns
political parties, considering western-type elections as abating the
establishment of 'the dictatorship of the majority'. Libya is 'Jamahiriya', a 'massocracy'.
From a political standpoint, the EU will be able to rely more on Libya's efforts
to curb the flow of illegal migrants to its shores. Already on June 24, while
the world was welcoming the release of the nurses, it was announced that at
least 450 Nigerians were deported from Libya because of immigration offences.
The Nigerians were repatriated for living in the North African country without
valid residence and work permits. The deportees were repatriated to Nigeria last
week on three flights, each transporting 150 of the illegal immigrants. Libya is
among the main transit routes of migrants that cross the Sahara en route to
Europe; thousands of migrants continue taking off from Libyan coasts headed to
Italy (mainly Lampedusa) and Malta. For his part, Colonel Gaddafi clearly felt
that the moment had come when adverse international attention on his country
over the medics' case was in danger of sabotaging the progress being made on the
diplomatic and economic fronts.
The Suspicious Timing
Of course, Qadhafi could have used his influence, blood-money issues,
notwithstanding, to bring an end to the Bulgarian medics' nightmare sooner. The
reasons as to why the Libyan leader finally 'caved' may be sought in Scotland.
Newnations hinted in its July Update that there was reason to believe that
Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed al-Megrahi was perhaps wrongfully convicted for the 1988
bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie. Indeed, at the end of last June, the
Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission (SCCRC) referred al-Megrahi's
conviction back to the High Court of Justiciary for a further appeal. The
commission, in the published summary findings, questioned Megrahi's conviction
on the grounds that some of the evidence presented at the trial may have been
fabricated and that he might have been inadequately represented by his then
legal team, suggesting a possible miscarriage of justice, certainly a need to
re-examine the evidence. Details of the legal elements aside, what is
significant is that the Libyan leader had hinted at a linkage between the case
of al-Megrahi and the Bulgarian nurses. In a December 2006 speech in Tripoli on
the occasion of 'Eid al-Adha' Qadhafi made an explicit reference to just such a
linkage, the language of which might be considered a classic of 'Qadafi-speak'
in terms of his understanding and appraisal of the world about him.
"Organisations such as the Arab League, the non-aligned movement and the
Islamic Conference said al-Megrahi was a political prisoner and international
observers said elements of foreign intelligence were present at the trial.
Nobody asked for his release. The important thing is why the medical team
injected the children with AIDS. Who ordered you -- was it Libyan intelligence,
American intelligence, Israeli intelligence or Bulgarian intelligence? This is
what we have to find out."
Moreover, as noted by international observer at the Lockerbie trial, Dr Hans Köchler,
the logic of the link between the two cases was also suggested by the fact that
families of the infected Libyan children demanded US$10 million per family, the
same amount offered by Libya to families of the Lockerbie victims. The
announcement of al-Megrahi's conviction being referred back to the High Court,
came on the same day that a 'Molotov Jeep' was set afire at Glasgow airport in a
terrorist attack. The sinister coincidence highlights a reversal of the
Bulgarian medics' crisis vis-à-vis the 'international community'. How would
Libya respond, if al-Megrahi is found not-guilty by an appeal of his sentence?
What about the millions they have already paid in compensation to families of
the victims, some of which is still outstanding? How indeed and where, will the
western authorities pursue the guilty parties if al-Megrahi is cleared?